Hapoel’s Euro hopes now down to one game

Jerusalem essentially faces must-win vs Sevilla at Malha tonight; Gilboa’s campaign to end in Greece.

BRIAN RANDLE of Hapoel Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem website)
BRIAN RANDLE of Hapoel Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem website)
Just last week, Hapoel Jerusalem seemed to be cruising into the last 16 of the Eurocup.
Oded Katash’s men entered their game at VEF Riga with a 3-1 record, comfortably leading Group G.
However, a defeat in Latvia combined with Cajasol Sevilla’s home loss to CEZ Nymburk has turned Hapoel’s game against Sevilla at Malha Arena on Tuesday night into nothing short of a do-or-die showdown.
A Jerusalem win will see it finish the group in first place, with a loss by four points or less ensuring Hapoel a top-two position.
However, if Cajasol wins by five points or more and Nymburk beats Riga at home as expected, Hapoel’s continental campaign will end far earlier than anyone had imagined.
If Riga wins and Jerusalem loses, the final standings will be determined by total point differential, meaning Hapoel would be able to afford to lose by more than four points, depending on the result in the Czech Republic.
Nevertheless, Katash has his players focused on only one thing – claiming a victory on Tuesday.
“We are only thinking of winning,” Katash said. “We will have to beat a team which is not only good, but also knows that it is playing for its life in the competition. That makes the game much tougher, and we will have to be aggressive and play strong defense.”
Sevilla was regarded as the strongest team in Group G when the regular season draw was made, but its impressive roster has struggled so far this season.
Hapoel handed the Spaniards their first loss in the group opener, winning 76-72 in Seville, with Joan Plaza’s team falling to a 2-3 record after last week’s defeat to Nymburk.
However, even with its recent troubles, Cajasol is more than capable of hurting Jerusalem at Malha, making Tuesday’s encounter especially tricky for the hosts.
“We respect Sevilla, but we are trying to focus on ourselves,” said guard Yuval Naimi, who will likely have to play a major role for the team with Yogev Ohayon still struggling with injury. “Every player has ups and downs, but I always knew that it would only be a matter of time until my chance would come.”
Brian Randle, who together with Ohayon also missed Saturday’s overtime win over Bnei Hasharon, is expected to recover in time to face Sevilla.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil’s Eurocup campaign will draw to a close at Aris Thessaloniki on Tuesday, with the reigning Israeli champion already losing all hope of advancing last week.
Also Tuesday, Maccabi Haifa will try and join Barak Netanya in the last 16 of the EuroChallenge.
Haifa will secure first place in Group B with a win at BK Ventspils in Latvia, but a loss will leave it depending on Skyliners Frankfurt to defeat Khimik Yuzhny.
Netanya, which guaranteed its progress last week, visits Turk Telekom in Ankara.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Ashdod defeated Ironi Ashkelon 86-83 in overtime in BSL action on Monday.
Ashkelon had the edge after 10 minutes, leading 26-20.
The hosts maintained their lead throughout the second period, but were still ahead by just six points at the break (45-39).
Ashdod would close the gap in the third quarter, and with 10 minutes to play it was the visitors who led 58-54.
A tight fourth frame would ensue, and after Rashon Turner missed two late free throws the game would go into overtime tied at 71-71.
Ramel Bradley would eventually decide the game in the final minute of the extra period, and led his team with 25 points in the encounter.
Turner had 17 points for Ashkelon.